Kodjia fires Ivory Coast past South Africa in Africa Cup of Nations

Jonathan Kodjia netted the only goal of the game. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2019

Kodjia fires Ivory Coast past South Africa in Africa Cup of Nations

  • The Elephants set themselves up for a much improved display in Egypt after Kodjia scrambled home the winner on 64 minutes

CAIRO: Jonathan Kodjia struck the only goal as Ivory Coast defeated South Africa 1-0 in the steamy Cairo heat on Monday in a meeting of former Africa Cup of Nations champions.

Ivory Coast won the title for the second time in 2015 but crashed out in the group stage two years ago without a victory and are trying to rebuild a team to match that of their golden generation.

The Elephants set themselves up for a much improved display in Egypt after Kodjia scrambled home the winner on 64 minutes against the 1996 champions.

“It was a difficult match and the important thing for us was not to come a cropper in the opening game,” said Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara. “We needed to start well in the competition and that’s what we’ve done.”

South Africa boss Stuart Baxter said he had no complaints about the result after his side rarely threatened the Ivorian goal.

“Because of the lack of strikes on goal we can’t complain about losing the game, but I thought the players put in a great performance and it’s a great learning curve for us,” he said.

Talent

Kamara sees Nicolas Pepe as one the young stars who can banish the memories of a disastrous title defense, and the in-demand Lille forward soon demonstrated his talent with a jinking run that ended with Kodjia snatching at a shot from close range.

South Africa, who failed to qualify for the 2017 edition, on the other hand have arrived in Egypt as one of the most unpredictable teams.

Bafana Bafana scaled the heights at the outset of 2019 qualifying by winning 2-0 in Nigeria, then sank into mediocrity by drawing 0-0 away to lowly ranked Seychelles.

In the first half at Al Salam Stadium where temperatures again peaked around 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) they were largely limited to counter-attacks, captain Thulani Hlatshwayo going closest with a header that brushed the roof of the net.

Ivory Coast headed home early in Gabon after they were held by Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost against Morocco, but they nearly took the lead here twice in quick succession around the half-hour.

After a foul on the edge of the South Africa box Pepe, the 22-goal second highest French Ligue 1 scorer last season behind Kylian Mbappe, slammed a thunderous free kick against the crossbar with Ronwen Williams rooted to the spot.

The South Africa goalkeeper then produced a stunning reflex save to keep Kodjia out moments later as the Aston Villa forward ran clean through before needlessly opting for power over precision.

Amid the energy-sapping heat both sides made a labored start to the second half but it eventually burst into life when Kodjia atoned for his earlier miss.

Max Gradel was released into space down the left and the winger whipped a precise early ball across to an unmarked Kodjia who stabbed beyond Williams.

South Africa substitute Lars Veldwijk tumbled to the ground under pressure from Serge Kanon late on as they pressed for an equalizer and Sibusiso Vilakazi blazed over on the turn, while Pepe was denied a second for Ivory Coast from another free-kick following a flying save by Williams.


Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”